by Gregg Chadwick
In his first work of fiction, The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad depicts a world caught between timeless paths of migration and geo-political modernity. Ahmad knits together a series of short stories that cover the life arc of one young man, Tor Baz - the wandering falcon of the title, as he journeys from infancy to manhood.
Inspired by his time as a civil service worker in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Ahmad writes of a world governed by clan and custom. During his time as a powerful emissary of the Pakistani government under the tribal region's frontier governing system, Jamil Ahmad simultaneously served as politician, police chief, judge, jury and executioner. Bits of this personal history are woven within the stories, including hints of Jamil's wife's German heritage. Environmentalist and activist Helga Ahmad was instrumental in encouraging her husband Jamil to move from halting first attempts at poetry to richly crafted stories of people, place and borders.
The bleak landscapes in the book evoke a world of nomadic treks where human contact is brief and often violent, and where far western desert winds blows clouds of sand so thick that breath is priceless. The environment is unforgiving as is the justice doled out by tribe and government.
Jamil Ahmad finished The Wandering Falcon in 1973-74 but the stories did not find a publisher until this year. Penguin Books' decision to at last publish Jamil's stories is timely. Ahmad believes that his stories evoke a vanishing world of tribes that the modern world must resonate and harmonize with: "Because frankly speaking, I still think that each one of us has a tribal gene inside, embedded inside. I really think that way."
Jamil Ahmad hopes that deeper understanding of the tribes that once roamed freely between the far borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran could help end the wars that stain their mountains and valleys with blood. Reading The Wandering Falcon can help begin a process of understanding between the timeless nomadic life and the fragmenting borders of our post-modern society.
Our contemporary world has much to learn from the rhythms of the nomadic trail. I highly recommend Jamil Ahmad's magnificent book The Wandering Falcon.
Breath of Allah
30"x22" monotype on paper 2011
The Wandering Falcon's Site on Penguin.com